Turn Off Fluorescent Lights or Let Them Burn?

9 Feb 2007 – If you leave your office or room for only a few minutes, should you turn your fluorescent lights off?  The answer is YES.  Here’s why.

With the latest generation of fluorescent lighting fixtures and electronic ballasts, the energy required to restart your lights is small.  The energy savings cutoff time is less than 10 seconds.

The real question is, do you have the right fluorescent ballasts to be turning your lights on and off 24 times per day?

Your lamp life depends on your ballast and your application.  There are basically two types of electronic ballast that could be driving your lights.  One is called an “Instant Start” ballast.  The other is a “Programmed Start” (or rapid start) ballast.

How are they different and how do they affect lamp life?

Instant Start.  Lamps being lit by an instant start ballast prefer to be left on.  An area such as a kitchen lit continuously for hours might be a good candidate for instant start ballasts.  If you frequently “cycle” or turn on and off the lights, you will shorten the life of the lamps.  If you have occupancy sensors installed, you will probably be disappointed in the lamp life with instant start ballasts.  But if only switched a few times per day, instant start ballasts are the way to go.  They will give efficient long life to the lamps.

Programmed Start.  Bathroom or office lighting, on the other hand, might be cycled many more than 20 times per day.  These areas would be better suited to lighting systems with programmed start ballasts.  These systems tolerate the frequent cycling of lights without premature burnout of lamps; and they are designed to work with occupancy sensors – which automatically do the energy-saving switching for you.

So, what do you have?  Safely lock out the electricity; pull your tubes (lamps); take off the cover plate; and check the printing on your ballasts.  Abbreviations such as “IS” indicate Instant Start, while PS or RS refer to Programmed Start or Rapid Start.  If you need to swap out some fixtures or ballasts, safely use your new-found knowledge and then start getting some better life out of those lamps!

Again, if you have instant start ballasts on fluorescent light fixtures located in areas which are cycled frequently – and you are not happy with the life of your lamps – then switch to a programmed or rapid start ballast such as the GE Ultrastart or the Sylvania ProStart PSN, which can handle 100,000 cycles.  Just make sure your lamps are also “matched” to the ballast.  There are many types of lamps out there!  Don’t be afraid to ask a knowledgeable dealer or Rep for help.

Lars

the Energy Geek

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